— Published by The Denver Post, May 31, 2013. Republished by Lilac Hills Ranch, June 3, 2013.
|Communities such as Buena Vista's South Main area could lead the West's housing market, according to a 10-year study of housing trends that shows buyers paying 16 percent more for homes near shops, restaurants and recreational amenities. (Jason Blevins, The Denver Post)
BUENA VISTA — Homes within walking distance to shops and restaurants are forecast to drive the housing markets and economies in mountain communities of the interior West as the recession's effects wane.
That's according to a recent study of high-country housing trends over the past decade by the Sonoran Institute, a nonprofit public-policy group that advocates for better management of growth in the West. The group's 60-page study — "Reset, Assessing Future Housing Markets in the Rocky Mountain West" — shows that while homebuyers are willing to pay an average of 18.5 percent more for a house in a walkable mountain neighborhood in the Rocky Mountain West, the supply of homes in or near downtown commercial areas is too small.
"There is growing demand for walkable neighborhoods, and it's an untapped market opportunity," said Clark Anderson, director of the Sonoran Institute's Western Colorado Program.
Looking at homebuying trends in six Western mountain communities from 2000 to 2010, including Eagle, Buena Vista and Carbondale, the group identified a number of trends driving demand for what it called "compact walkable neighborhoods."
Younger residents are entering the homebuying market and able to work remotely from hamlets formerly occupied by agricultural or service-sector workers. Older people are retiring in the hills and often downsizing. Household incomes are getting smaller and so are household sizes. Limited land supply in recreational mountain valleys is fueling buyer and municipal interest in denser housing projects.
"These are trends that are happening in small communities, large communities, resorts, towns and cities across the Rocky Mountains. Consumer preferences and choices are creating a different-looking housing market from what we have known in the past," Anderson said.
The institute's study ranged from small villages — such as 2,600-resident Buena Vista — to larger cities such as the 200,000-resident Idaho capital of Boise. In all but one of the areas, buyers were willing to pay more for a home — as high as 31 percent in Buena Vista and 42.3 percent in Boise — that has nearby offices, shops and restaurants.
Buena Vista's South Main neighborhood, with its New Urbanism development style clustering homes and shops around recreational open spaces along the Arkansas River, is a nationally recognized example of residential development that encourages less use of cars.
It's hardly a new concept, said South Main founder Jed Selby.
"Walkability is timeless," said Selby, leaning on a battered cruiser bike alongside South Main's riverfront, where the former professional kayaker helped sculpt a whitewater play park that anchors the community.
But the problem with conventional rural zoning is that it often works to separate commercial and residential into distinct areas — part of an effort to protect the bucolic appeal of rural living. Traditional rural zoning allows for homes on an acre or even 35 acres, situated a drive from town.
The rural zoning model is changing as more municipalities embrace denser mixed-use projects that leave more space for the playgrounds — the rivers, the hiking and biking trails and the natural experiences that create the West's allure.
It's been a growing trend for years, said Chris Frampton, the managing partner of East West Partners' Riverfront Park along Denver's South Platte, who admits he is biased toward dense mixed-use development. But now, with 80 million Generation Y-ers coming into the housing market, the evidence supporting the demand for urban-style, compact development "is obvious," Frampton said.
"This study is absolutely dead-on true," he said. "Look at the mountains; the communities that are walkable do better: Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Steamboat. This is not a myth. It's not a fad."
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasontblevins
The Sonoran Institute's study Reset and Recovery: Assessing Housing Markets in the Rocky Mountain West showed that homebuyers in five of the six intermountain West communities studied were willing to pay more for homes in walkable neighborhoods.
- Carbondale - 7.6 percent less / 50 percent of the housing market is compact, walkable neighborhood
- Eagle - 5.5 percent more / 40 percent of the housing market is walkable
- Buena Vista - 30.7 percent more / 11 percent of the housing market is walkable
- Bozeman, MT - 20.1 percent more / 13 percent of the housing market is walkable
- Teton Valley, ID - 19.7 percent more / 22 percent of the housing market is walkable
- Boise, ID - 42.3 percent more / 15 percent of the housing market is walkable
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